British road race champion, Lizzie Armitstead, will be gunning for success at the Women’s Tour of Britain next year after it was awarded the prestigious 2.1 status by the UCI.
The Tour, to be run by SweetSpot, organisers of the Tour of Britain, is set to attract the world’s leading female road racers when it rolls out in Northamptonshire in May.
And Armitstead, a powerful voice for greater opportunities for female racing cyclists, believes it is a step in the right direction for the sport.
“I’m really grateful to the organisers and really happy that I can focus my season around a home tour, which is pretty special,” she told RCUK. “I never thought I’d get that in my career so I’m really excited about it!
“It’s going to be an interesting year – I’ve got the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games as a goal as well. I’d obviously like to win it, being a home tour, but at the very least it may just be about targeting stages.
“I think it will be a big focus for European riders, not just British riders. I think it is going to be taken very seriously and I think other teams will focus on it.
“I’m really grateful to the organisers and really happy that I can focus my season around a home tour, which is pretty special. I never thought I’d get that in my career so I’m really excited about it!
“It has the prestige of a 2.1 race so I think it will be up there with the other similarly-ranked races.
“I think it’s really important that the organisers have taken this step and I’m really proud that it’s going to be in our country.”
National champion Armitstead, who won Britain’s first medal of the 2012 Olympic Games when she claimed silver in the women’s road race, was one of the leading campaigners for a women’s Tour de France in the summer.
But while debate still rages on that topic, she admits women’s cycling is certainly progressing – as highlighted by British Cycling’s announcement they had 100,000 more women on bikes this year.
She said: “I think British cycling is known across the cycling community as being forward thinking.
“You’ve got to be realistic in terms of the development of women’s cycling, and we have to take each step at a time.
“I’m a Breeze ambassador for British Cycling so I get updated with statistics and, like they’ve said, there are now 100,000 more people on bikes and there are also a lot more activities going on.
“If women can watch our races on TV then it helps to get access and find out what high-level women’s cycling is about. You don’t really get to know unless you watch it on TV so I think we’re certainly heading in the right direction.
People now know who I am, they ask about my job which never used to happen before
“It’s all about small steps and being realistic about it and I think from a personal experience, every time I ride my bike I see more and more women out on bikes too.
“People now know who I am, they ask about my job which never used to happen before! From that respect I think there’s been a huge leap forward.”
The 24-year-old endured a mixed season on the bike beset by illness, but still achieved three podium finishes during La Route de France among several other top-ten spots and her national championship win.
However, with a busy 2014 ahead she hopes her efforts in training will be reflected in her results next year.
“This year’s been very average,” she admitted. “But all the things I can control myself – training, my lifestyle etc – I did 100% of what I could.
“The things like my health and things that affected my form were out of my control. I’ve now just got to get over it and move on.
“I suppose I can look at it and see that I am still consistently in the top ten in road races even when I feel like falling off the bike! I suppose it’s a good thing, but it’s not good for morale to keep training the same and not see the results for it.
“I’ve now already had my off season, I had two weeks off the bike and now I’m back training for next year already.
“The Women’s Tour, Commonwealth Games and World Championship are my biggest targets next year. I’d also like to have a good Classics season as well but you have to keep your targets under wraps. You can’t have too many so we’ll see!”